RPGing on a budget

With everything that’s going on at the moment, we’re all feeling the pinch financially: so here’s some suggestions to help you save some cash when it comes to RPGs: RPGing on a budget! In the suggestions below, many involve the internet: if you are using mobile broadband, you may want to check your mobile broadband Terms & Conditions as downloading lots of material may quickly expend your data transfer quota.

Recycle your adventures, and reuse maps when you can. If you run games for different groups you can likely re-use maps from another game. One of the maps from the Call of Cthulhu adventure “The Haunting” has put in an appearance in both my games of Ashes of Freedom and Cthulhutech. I found a load of old school jotters that I ripped up for scrap paper. If you’ve got a pile of old games and miniatures, get rid of them on eBay. Metal miniatures can make a lot of cash for you especially if they’re the old lead ones and are unpainted.

Raid your boardgames for dice and tokens: the dice you and your players can use and the tokens you can use for monsters and NPCs, especially if they are in a variety of colours.

Miniatures can be expensive if you’re strapped for cash. Players may want to bring their own figures anyway – you can always use counters to represent monsters or NPCs.

Use squared paper for floor-plans and draw them so that they can be reused. The backing paper from tackyback (the plastic used to cover books in libraries) is very useful for this. Again, old school maths jotters are useful for these.

Borrow rulebooks from anyone that already has them. Nowhere  is it written that a GM must own all the rulebooks! If they’re playing in your game so much the better – they can bring the books with them when they come along. Just make sure you ask permission before you borrow them :).

Go shopping for second hand games. Conventions like Conpulsion and Claymore usually have a lot of second-hand stuff for sale, including miniatures. You can also check eBay for old games and supplements, but watch out for the delivery costs that can be levied by unscrupulous sellers – a 128-page softback supplement should cost less than £3 to send in the UK – check the Royal Mail website for some idea of basic prices. If you order from overseas it can cost considerably more. You can also get cheap RPG materials in PDF form from places like DriveThruRPG, rather than shelling out for a dead tree edition.

Be frugal with your printing. Avoid printing in colour, especially if you have an inkjet printer: they expend cartridges so quickly that you’ll shell out a small fortune. If you’re lucky enough to have a laser printer with a duplexing unit, make sure you print both sides. Print in draft mode which will save ink/toner. You could also email/PM your maps to your players rather than printing them. Finally you could photocopy, rather than print, your maps, handouts, character sheets, etc.

Free PC tools and adventures are out there, from PC generators to mapping tools such as AutoRealm. Of course, you need to have an internet connection although you could use a library. The internet is your friend when it comes to finding materials for your games. For instance, the ProFantasy mapping viewer will allow you to view and print the large number maps in their archive. There’s also various collections of adventures and other materials created by the RPG community online, such as the  ORC wiki.

Use Skype or other IM tools if you can’t get your group together to play. One of my friends runs a weekly RPG session using Skype together with a mapping tool/virtual whiteboard and it has been working well for quite some time. With Skype allowing you to make free VoIP calls, it probably works out cheaper than a subscription to World of Warcraft.

Use SRD documents rather than expensive rulebooks if you can’t afford it. Both D&D and Pathfinder have their own SRD documents that are at least usable – they may not be pretty, but who cares? Many games also provide quick-start rules that you can use to run the first few games, usually along with pre-generated PCs.

Write your own. Either write your own adventures or come up with your own system. It’s a lot of work but may not cost you anything, except time. You can also pad out published adventures with your own encounters and NPCs.

Host your game. If you’re really skint, host the game in your own home, saving you the travel costs. You might even get free snacks from your players!

And finally, SIGH there are PDFs out there of scanned books. I DO NOT CONDONE THIS. In fact I strongly discourage it – and it is the reason Wizards of the Coast no longer distribute their D&D books in PDF format. Go figure.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.